The slumping St. Louis Cardinals are hardly playing like defending World Series champions. It may not get any easier at Wrigley Field.
The Cardinals look to avoid losing their fifth straight game when they open a three-game series against the arch-rival Chicago Cubs on Friday.
St. Louis, which opened this season being swept at home by the New York Mets in a three-game series, is now coming off consecutive two-game series sweeps by Pittsburgh and San Francisco.
The Cardinals lost 6-2 to the Giants on Thursday, the third time in their four-game losing skid they failed to reach three runs.
Their 6-9 start is the worst by a reigning World Series champion since the 1998 Florida Marlins opened 1-11.
“If you pay attention to our club, you know what our concerns are,” manager Tony La Russa said. “It’s not necessary to spell it out. We got beat, we’re not doing enough and we’re going to fix it.”
St. Louis tries to get back on track in Chicago (6-9), where it went 2-8 last year and has lost 13 of 18 meetings since the start of 2005.
The Cubs went just 28-43 last season at home against opponents besides the Cardinals.
Albert Pujols, who batted .331 with 49 home runs and 137 RBIs overall last season, hit only .216 (8-for-37) with one homer in 10 games at Wrigley.
Pujols continues to slump through this April, as his 0-for-3 performance Thursday dropped his season batting average to .190.
While the Cardinals struggled overall against the Cubs last season, Friday’s starter Braden Looper (2-1, 2.37 ERA) was outstanding against them, pitching 12 2-3 scoreless innings over 10 relief appearances.
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 2.87 ERA in 32 career relief appearances against Chicago, including a 15 2-3-inning scoreless streak spanning his last 13 outings.
As a starter for the first time this season, Looper has given up just five runs in 19 innings. After allowing two runs and three hits in the first inning against Milwaukee on Sunday, he settled down and yielded just two more hits over the next five innings of the Cardinals’ 10-2 victory.
The Cubs will counter with Ted Lilly (1-1, 2.37 ERA), who is hoping to get some run support.
Despite his low ERA and .164 opponent batting average, Lilly has just one win to his credit through his first three starts as a Cub. The left-hander was the hard-luck loser his last time out, as he gave up only one run, two hits and one walk while striking out 10 in six innings in Sunday’s 1-0 defeat to Cincinnati.
“I’ve had three starts and we’re not winning a lot of games,” said Lilly, who has received a total of six runs in support. “It’s nice to go out there and throw the ball well, but the objective is to win games.”
Lilly fared well in his only career start against the Cardinals, allowing four hits in seven shutout innings of a 5-2 victory on June 15, 2005, while pitching for Toronto.
Cubs catcher Michael Barrett hit his second homer of the season in Thursday’s 3-0 win over Atlanta, Chicago’s third victory in its last 10 games.
Barrett batted .400 (10-for-25) with four home runs and 10 RBIs in eight home games against St. Louis last season, and is 7-for-11 (.636) with two doubles and an RBI in his career against Looper.